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Alumni Association Will Bestow Highest Honors During "Year of the Tiger" University News
For release: April 7, 2010

For press information, contact Gabrielle Maxey, 901/678-2843

It’s always the Year of the Tiger for U of M alumni, but 2010 also marks the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. Under that theme, the University of Memphis Alumni Association will bestow its highest honors on five people at a black-tie gala Friday, April 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Memphis Zoo. The dinner and program will be held outdoors in Cat Country.

Ron Hart and Theopolis Holeman will be honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award; Tre Hargett will be named Outstanding Young Alumnus; Rita Sparks will be recognized as the Distinguished Friend of the University; and Bobby Wharton will receive the J. Millard Smith Illustrious Service to the Association Award.


Ronald Hart
Ronald Hart
Hart (BBA ’81, MBA ’83), a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, based in Atlanta, has been named one of the nation’s top financial advisors by two publications. In September 2008, Registered Rep magazine and its Web site,, named him the No. 4 financial adviser in the country, based on assets under management. Last year, Barron’snamed Hart the 54thtop financial adviser in the country based on its scoring system. 

He is a syndicated columnist whose work appears in 30 newspapers with a weekly circulation of one million readers. His columns have been described as “Lewis Grizzard meets P.J. O’Rourke with a dash of Will Rogers’ horse sense.” Hart appears on CNN and been quoted in numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of the book There is No Such Thing as a Pretty Good Alligator Wrestler, published last November.

He attended the Institute for Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University. After earning his MBA, he went to work for Goldman Sachs. Hart also has served on the Tennessee Board of Regents.


Theopolis Holeman
Theopolis Holeman
Holeman  (BSET ’71)was named the 2008 Outstanding Alumnus of the U of M’s Herff College of Engineering. He is group vice president of U.S. operations for Spectra Energy, one of North America’s leading natural gas infrastructure companies serving three key links in the natural gas value chain: gathering and processing, transmission and storage, and distribution. Holeman formerly served as senior vice president of power delivery for Duke Energy, one of the largest electrical power companies in the country. Holeman has also been recognized as one of the “Top 75 Most Powerful Black Executives in the U.S.” by Black Enterprisemagazine.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in construction technology from the U of M in 1971 and later a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Houston. He has also completed the Stanford Executive Program.


Tre Hargett
Tre Hargett
Hargett (BBA ’91, MBA ’92)is Tennessee secretary of state. He was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1996 to 2008, and he served as the Republican leader of the Tennessee House from 2003 to 2005. During his tenure in the House, Hargett co-sponsored a constitutional amendment designed to facilitate property tax relief for senior citizens. The amendment was approved by 83 percent of Tennessee voters. In 2007, he was nominated to be director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which sets the rates and service standards of privately owned telephone, natural gas, electric, and water utilities. He served in that role from February 2008 through January 2009.


Rita Sparks
Rita Sparks
Sparkshas been a licensed commodity broker since 1980. In 1977, she and her late husband, Willard, formed Sparks Companies Inc., an agricultural research information and consulting firm. After Willard’s death in 2005, she formed her own investment company, Sparks Enterprises Inc. Sparks has also held several key accounting positions in the retail business and in the commodities field.

She serves on the University of Memphis Board of Visitors and the U of M Foundation Board of Trustees, and she is an ambassador for the U of M’s Athletics Department. She also serves on the board of Metropolitan Bank and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. 

She is involved in a variety of community projects, having served on the boards of the Memphis Development Foundation, the Baddour Center, the Memphis Redbirds Foundation, and the Campbell Foundation. She is a past president of the Ronald McDonald House and was instrumental in securing the funds to build the first Ronald McDonald House in Memphis.

Sparks received the 2010 Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor’s Award for her support of  higher education. She was the Memphis recipient of the 1999 Outstanding Volunteer Fund Raiser from the National Society for Fund Raising Executives and a member of the 1996 Leadership Memphis class.


Bobby Wharton
Bobby Wharton
Wharton (BSET ’75),president and owner of G & W Diesel Inc. and co-owner of Pro-Fire Equipment, defines what it means to be a “True Blue Tiger.” He has donated to professorships in the Herff College of Engineering for almost 10 years. His generosity provides critical support annually for an outstanding professor in that field. Wharton is a past president of the University of Memphis National Alumni Association and currently serves on the Herff College’s Alumni Board. In 2006, he received the True Blue Tradition Award, which is awarded annually by the Alumni Association to those who have made significant contributions to creating and continuing the traditions of the U of M.

His commitment to the University’s Athletics Department is equally impressive. Wharton was the “godfather” and care provider for mascot TOM II, and he served as president of the Highland Hundred. When asked why he does so much for the University of Memphis, Wharton’s response is, “I would not be where I am today without my University education, and for that I owe it a debt of gratitude.”

All five recipients are Life Members of the Alumni Association.

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